Bobby Rahal serving as Grand Marshall for 21st Annual Grand Prix of Monterey MONTEREY, Calif. (May 30, 2003) - Racing legend Bobby Rahal is being honored as the Grand Marshall for this year's Grand Prix of Monterey, June 13-15, at Mazda Raceway...
Bobby Rahal serving as Grand Marshall for 21st Annual Grand Prix of Monterey
MONTEREY, Calif. (May 30, 2003) - Racing legend Bobby Rahal is being honored as the Grand Marshall for this year's Grand Prix of Monterey, June 13-15, at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Rahal is being recognized for his unmatched accomplishments at the circuit, as well as his life-long contribution to the world of auto racing.
Rahal, who is one of the greatest all-time in open-wheel racing, won four consecutive Champ Car races at the world-renowned track from 1984-87. He also has three more victories as a team owner, in 1998 and '99 with Bryan Herta at the wheel and 2001 with Max Papis driving. Michel Jourdain Jr., in Team Rahal's Gigante-sponsored Champ Car, leads Rahal's hopes for another Grand Prix of Monterey victory this season.
His love affair with Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca predates his Champ Car career, however. Rahal's first race here was in 1976 in Formula Atlantic and his first big event at the dry lake was the 1979 Can-Am, which he won.
"I've just always loved this circuit," Rahal said. "To win here four years in a row, I'm really proud of that. It's just one of those tracks I've had an affinity for. But, what's not to like about the Monterey Peninsula?"
Rahal is a historian and he grew up in the '60s reading and studying about the great motorsports tracks.
"Laguna Seca's history is so rich," he said. "To see my name next to names like Bruce McLaren, Jim Hall, Roger Penske - that's so special."
Rahal's list of accomplishments is long and it includes three Champ Car World Series championships - 1986 and '87 and 1992 as an owner/driver. In ' 92, he teamed with Carl Hogan to form Rahal-Hogan Racing and Rahal's title in his maiden season as a car owner matched Rick Mears as the only drivers in the series with three championships.
He is hard pressed, however, to pick one race or one season as tops in his memory bank, unless it would be his 1986 Indy 500 victory, which came a matter of days before his mentor and team owner at the time, Jim Trueman, succumbed to cancer. In that Indy 500, he became the first driver to complete the race in under three hours. Also, in that season he became the first driver in Champ Car history to win over $1 million.
Rahal won all his races as a driver on Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca's original nine-turn, 1.9-mile layout and that's his favorite configuration. He recognizes, however, that the track has had to change and upgrade in order to remain competitive in the market place.
"Laguna Seca definitely has a historical place in racing," Rahal said. "Every win at any circuit is gratifying, but I have to say when you win at Laguna Seca it is special. But, I have seen other tracks fade away. Change is necessary. I kind of miss the old course. Not only because I won there, but also, the first couple of curves separated the men from the boys."
Rahal realizes the necessity of the layout change to its current 11 turns and 2.238 miles. There is also a need for permanent garages, hospitality suites and other fan amenities that are part of the track's improvement project.
"You can't bring your corporate clients to the track and have them using porta potties," he said. "I definitely think it's (the new construction) enhancing. You have to come into the 20th Century (let alone the 21st). It's definitely an investment in the future.
"I have often felt the Monterey Peninsula doesn't fully appreciate what Laguna Seca does for this community. You have a crown jewel here. The great permanent road racing circuits in this country are a vanishing breed. Laguna Seca is equivalent to a Wrigley Field or a Fenway Park. It's where the history of the sport began."
Additionally, Rahal feels the San Jose and San Francisco Bay areas need to get on the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca bandwagon.
"It's like having Wimbledon in your back yard," Rahal said of the fabled raceway.
While Rahal's racing and business commitments create the need to live elsewhere, his goal is to own a home on the Monterey Peninsula in the future.
"My best friend, Clay Larson (President of First National Bank of Central California) lives here," he said. "And, again, what's not to like about the Monterey Peninsula."
Grand Prix of Monterey tickets are on sale now at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, all Ticketmaster outlets, online at www.laguna-seca.com and www.ticketmaster.com, or by calling the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca ticket hotline at 1-800-327-SECA (7322).